DropBike to replace Community Access Bikeshare in Waterloo region

Toronto-based DropBike is coming to Waterloo region, with the company promising it can provide a better bike sharing experience for residents and municipalities alike.

GPS-enabled bikes can provide usage data to Region of Waterloo city planners

DropBike will run a one-year pilot with the Region of Waterloo, where residents will get a chance to try a dockless bike share program that's been adopted in Kelowna and Kingston. (Dropbike)
Toronto-based DropBike is coming to Waterloo region and the company promises that it can provide a better bike sharing experience for residents and municipalities alike.

Community Access Bikeshare, a service run by The Working Centre, is being discontinued, said Julie Belanger, principal planner with transportation demand management at the Region of Waterloo.

"We were contacted by Community Access Bikeshare, I believe it was in January. They brought to our attention that they would no longer be operating the program because — financially — it was no longer considered to viable."
DropBike has already been adopted in Kelowna, Kingston and Toronto. It appeals to cities because the upfront costs are negligible compared to other bike-sharing programs.

Toronto's Bike Share program, which started out under the Bixi brand, was taken over by the Toronto Parking Authority in 2014 after it was unable to pay back a $3.9 million dollar loan to the city.

Even under new management, the service struggles to be self-sustaining. It's expected to be another $1.1 million in the hold by the end of 2018.
That won't be a problem with DropBike, assures co-founder Afraj Gill.

"We're not a retail company. We are not in the business of selling bikes to municipalities," Afraj Gill explained to CBC News.

Instead, he said DropBike tries to align with active transportation policies in municipalities like Waterloo region and makes money by getting more people using bikes as a whole — and by extension, renting their bikes.
DropBike uses GPS-enabled smart locks that are key to their dockless bikeshare system. It allows users to leave bicycles in zones rather than proprietary stations that are costly for cities to invest in. (DropBike/Facebook)
DropBike also nixes the traditional station-based model — where riders are required to return the rented bicycles to proprietary docks.

Instead, it relies on Bluetooth and GPS-enabled locks, and an app that riders use to find the closest bike. The bikes are unlocked by scanning a QR code and payments are also processed through that app.

"You can ride it wherever you want," explained Gill. "Once you're done riding the bike, you open up the smartphone app and you find the nearest [safe haven] you can park the bike at. Or you could park the bike at a public bike rack or bike post using our cable locks."

"That's it. Once you lock it up, you can walk away."

Data for infrastructure planning

The GPS-enabled locks also provide valuable data cities might struggle to collect on their own, Gill said.

"I was speaking with a city many months ago and they had a bunch of bike racks and posts in their warehouse, but they didn't know where to put [them]."

Gill said they didn't have data on the busiest bike path or zone in the city — a trend he sees again and again when pitching his product to municipalities.

"That data, not only lacks, but in some cases it's completely non-existant," he said.

"The reason that's important is because it helps cities and policy-makers make really critical public infrastructure decisions."

DropBike plans to launch 200 to 300 bikes in Waterloo region by the summer, but the partnership is just a one-year pilot project — for now.

The Region of Waterloo says it will use the data gathered in the pilot project to inform the future of bikesharing in the region, as it undertakes a in-depth study at the end of 2018.